Super alia project funding still in play

fili@samoanews.com

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The American Samoa Venture Fund, which is funded with money from the US Treasury Department, remains a funding source for ASG’s development of the super alia — which is considered a safer boat than the current alia design, and can stay out longer to fish, says Commerce Department director Keniseli Lafaele.

Vessel design for the super alia was completed more than two years ago by Washington State boat builder Armstrong Brothers, which estimates the cost of construction at around $400,000 per boat.

This new alia project, one of several local fishery projects initiated by the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, was in response to requests from fishermen in American Samoa for an updated, safer alia design capable of making longer, farther trips with larger catches.

As previously reported by Samoa News, the DOC took over the lead of the super alia project, and monies American Samoa received under the Small State Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI), will be the funding source for construction of the super alias. The alia owners/ fishermen would apply under the SSBCI — which the Lolo Administration renamed in 2013 as the American Samoa Venture Fund — to fund super alia construction.

And the super alia was one of the many fishery issues of American Samoa that came up during the Council’s meeting in Honolulu two weeks ago. During a presentation by Council staff Nate Ilaoa, it was revealed that the SSBCI expired late last year and DOC has yet to identify a new funding source.

Responding to Samoa News inquiries Lafaele explained that while the SSBCI expired last year, the American Samoa Venture Fund “still exists to deploy the first tranche American Samoa received” from the US Treasury’s SSBCI program and “hopefully sustain the Venture Fund beyond the deployment of the federal allocation.”

“So, SSBCI remains a source of funding for the super alia,” the DOC director said yesterday.

Asked if DOC received applications from fishermen/owners seeking funding for super alia, under the Venture Fund, before the SSBCI expired, Lafaele said, “many expressed interest in the Venture Fund to finance a super alia but the private match requirement was an issue.”

“Super alia project is work in progress. We've gotten a quote from a local boat builder and we are talking with a couple of fishermen who are very interested,” he said. “The Venture Fund aims to fund two super alias this year.”

The local government is to first build a prototype model of the super alia, which would be used for building all super alias.

When asked if ASG/DOC has built a model yet of the super alia, Lafaele responded, “DOC has been looking for federal grants without much success to build a prototype model for training people — especially young unemployed people — to fish, navigate, and repair engines.”

According to a Council staff report on the super alia, the “DOC staff has maintained that the plan is for an initial alia to be built for training and demo purposes, owned and operated by the local government.”

BACKGROUND

As previously reported by Samoa News, although SSBCI no longer exists — as of Sept. 27, 2017 — the $3.5 million already drawn down for the local program can still be used and American Samoa has until the end of the year to award the funds.

American Samoa was awarded $10.5 million several years ago for the SSBCI, but efforts to get the program off the ground have been met with obstacles.

Lafaele had told Samoa News that the SSBCI “is a matching program” — that is, federal money, SSBCI, is matched with private capital  — equity or debt, or both. 

“There is a lack of capital market in the territory to provide the required private matching,” Lafaele said.

The first and only project funded so far by the Venture Fund, is $400,000 awarded early this month to locally-based Inter Island Airways. (See Samoa News Mar. 2, 2018 edition.)

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